In this editorial, Package Design interviews experts in a variety of roles about how teams can continuously deliver breakthrough innovation and about the evolving role of innovation. This is a preview of a roundtable discussion to be published later this year.
Brand and innovation designer at PepsiCo Inc.
How can business leaders enable, engage and empower their teams?
It sounds simple, but clear team structures and appointed decision makers can actually make all the difference in making team members feel enabled and not overwhelmed or paralyzed. It’s important to always feel like the project is moving in a positive direction, but when roles are fuzzy, every major decision feels like a roadblock. With complex projects that engage cross-functional teams, this can be tricky, because roles and team structures need to shift depending on objectives. If the project is design-led, then design should weigh heavily as decision makers; but if it is a productivity initiative, design should be focused on delivering instead of making the major decisions. Setting these clear expectations help teams manage their own success.
How does workload and cadence affect innovation?
Innovation takes time and usually relies on the cooperation of large teams. It’s hard to complete a true innovation project if workloads are heavy and unbalanced across disciplines. It goes back to empowerment—if progression depends on too many decision makers, projects will lose momentum and teams will feel thwarted. By the same token, working teams have to be able to look at opportunities for innovation and not feel overwhelmed by the processes, resources, and costs needed to get to implementation. If those needs are not supported, people will be resistant to taking on the challenge that innovation brings.
What have you done to integrate individual and organizational change?
The design function is still relatively young in PepsiCo. One of our major initiatives is developing a process for effective collaboration across the different business functions. In the past, ideas have been generated in one facet of the company, e.g., marketing, insights, etc., and passed between the others for evaluation. If we as designers can work with each team to understand the challenges from every angle, then the ideas and concepts that we generate will have a higher success rate when it runs through all of the validation systems.
If we take this more holistic view, injecting design into the development process doesn’t just mean adding a step, but adjusting the entire approach. Doing so reveals the complexity of innovation projects, they have lots of objectives from different angles and lots of work streams that need to harmonize. Design is crucial throughout this process—we are the thread that connects all the disciplines. We’ve employed what we call a “brief in a tweet,” where we challenge the team to align on a 140-character summary of the project. That way, as teams work concurrently, they have a basis for decision making.
How can a business leader proactively help his or her team to be more innovative?
The biggest barrier to innovation is fear of failure. Leaders need to trust their teams just like teams need to be able to trust that their leaders will be supportive in driving big and sometimes scary ideas forward.
How do you remain productive and innovative?
It’s hard to stay productive in a world where we are always available via email, texts and phone calls—not to mention working across global time zones. I’m a morning person, so I protect those peak hours of productivity. I get up early, exercise and then do my creative work, because that requires the most mental energy for me. Then I can use the later hours to answer emails and collaborate with colleagues. Of course it doesn’t always happen this way, but I do my best to protect creative time in order to tap into innovative ideas.
In your opinion, what are the emerging opportunities for the design industry to become even more innovative?
More and more companies are seeing the benefits of having design teams, and going beyond to become design-led companies. As designers secure more leadership roles in influential companies, it opens up huge opportunities to influence true innovation, which has to start at the enterprise level.
What lessons can we learn from failed attempts at innovation in the last decade?
There’s not a formula for innovation, but understanding your brand is a good start. Hardly a day goes by where I don’t hear someone say they want to “be more like Apple,” but often times that draws the wrong comparison.
With so many different types of companies, you have to think critically about what innovation streams make the most sense for your category and your individual business. I remember years ago when McDonalds served pizza to diversify their offerings, but simply adding a new product wasn’t enough. In fact, the new offering diluted and complicated McDonald’s brand. By the same token, Taco Bell found huge success in launching Doritos Locos Tacos, because the restaurant did a good job at identifying an opportunity at the intersection of brand, consumer desires and capability.